Lawmakers from President Saakashvili’s United National Movement (UNM), who make the parliamentary minority group, said they were temporarily suspending participation in “routine” discussions within the legislative body over issues such as next year’s budget in protest over “politically motivated” arrest of ex-defense and interior minister Bacho Akhalaia and two senior army commanders, as well as in protest over ongoing tax probe in the Georgian Public Broadcaster.
UNM lawmakers, who staged a walkout from Parliament chamber on November 7, said that these developments were posing risk to country’s further democratic development.
“We won’t be able to continue our usual work in next few days, pretending as if everything develops democratically and normally and despite of our interest towards next year’s budget, we won’t be able to discuss routinely with deputy finance minister draft of the state budget in the condition when there is much more at risk,” said parliamentary minority leader Davit Bakradze.
UNM says that the new government wants to mount pressure on the Georgian Public Broadcaster under the pretext of tax probe with an eventual goal to take control over the public TV.
In respect of the arrest of Akhalaia, UNM says it was part of the Georgian Dream’s campaign of “political retribution”. UNM MPs said that the new government aims at appointing its loyal figure as new chief of army staff and for that reason arrested current commander Giorgi Kalandadze on “fabricated charges”.
In televised statement on November 7 President Saakashvili said recent developments “are a source of concern for me, because we need supremacy of law now like never before.”
“Respect of the institutions also means the respect of our armed forces. During the pre-election campaign we were hearing that Georgia was to blame for launching the [August, 2008] war and that Georgia was to blame for Russia’s aggression in 2008. Unfortunately, we heard it after the elections too and I think that it will not be accepted either by the Georgian people or the international community, which knows the truth very well,” Saakashvili said.
“Today [November 7] morning one of the heroes of this war – and I do not want to speak about the charges under which he has been arrested together with others – was arrested under such circumstances, which do not correspond either the dignity of an officer or the respect of the armed forces and its role in our society,” he said referring to chief of army staff Giorgi Kalandadze, who was a commander of 4th infantry brigade during the August war.
Referring to ongoing tax probe in the Georgian Public Broadcaster, Saakashvili said that it was “absolutely unacceptable interference” in the public TV.
He said that recent development were “creating serious obstacles” on the path of Georgia’s NATO integration, especially ahead of the NATO foreign ministerial meeting in December.
PM Bidzina Ivanishvili called on the UNM not to prejudge developments surrounding arrest of Akhalaia and two senior army commanders. He suggested that more evidence would emerge, including video recordings into the case of soldiers’ abuse.
“There are many witnesses and you will see footage and learn how solders were beaten,” PM Ivanishvili told journalists.
“They [UNM MPs] know very well that those who have been arrested committed many crimes,” Ivanishvili said and immediately added: “Presumption of innocence should be respected and let’s not declare them as criminals in advance.”
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